Having witnessed problems that can occur when a space crunch leaves too many students bumping up against each other, Alcorn State University is set to initiate a $25-million to $30-million expansion in late spring that will add modern dorms, faculty apartments and mixed-use retail space.
The over-crowding that occurred in Dr. Christopher Brown II’s first year as president of Alcorn with the enrollment of more than 4,000 students in 2011 led the chief administrator to later curtail enrollment at the main campus in Lorman. The retrofitting of five residence halls and the addition of the residence halls that will be built next spring will return the nation’s first historically black land grant college to a growth path that could eventually see enrollment as high as 5,100 students.
Brown, along with executive vice president and provost Samuel L. White and senior vice president and COO Betty Roberts, has not fully settled on the scope of the project that would span eight to 10 acres. White wants a $30-million expansion while Brown prefers a $25-million one.
Either way, Alcorn is positioned to take on the debt the construction will require, Brown said, and noted the university recently paid off much of its previous bond debt. “We have got a lot of credit liquidity.”
White, the provost, said the expansions will continue the quality of life enhancements begun with the refurbishing of the other residence halls. “This is a critical component of our recruitment of students and faculty. Housing amenities are important,” he noted.
In addition to the modern apartment-style dorms that include separate bedrooms for students, also planned are apartments for faculty — likely with two-and-three-bedrooms, a couple of baths and washer-dryer hookups.
The retail mix has yet to be decided but will seek to fill a void left by the absence of dining and shopping opportunities in Lorman, an isolated hamlet north of Natchez.
Brown said in addition to food, he sees an opportunity for house wares and apparel as part of the retail mix. “Some universities are starting to put in mini-WalMart like stores,” the president said, indicating he wants to explore such an option.
Whatever makes the final mix must meet the university’s desire to gain commissions from customer sales as part of the lease agreements, Brown said.
He and his staff hope to have a Request for Proposals ready by this fall and to award the construction project by the end of the year.
Funding will come through bonds backed by the university and sold through the Alcorn State University Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)3 that can issue tax-exempt bonds.
Brown said Alcorn wants to sell the bonds as soon as possible to avoid paying higher interest rates. “As those prices go up the scale of the project will go down,” he said of concerns over rising interest rates. “So we want to move as quickly as possible to start construction.”